HMWT: 50 years working for wildlife

Small blue butterfly

Small blue butterfly - Credit: Archant

Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust celebrates its golden anniversary this year. Sarah Buckingham charts 50 years of conservation work in our county

Fox Covert donating land

Fox Covert donating land - Credit: Archant

In the early 1960s, a group of local naturalists and other interested people assembled out of common concern for Hertfordshire’s rapidly declining wildlife. They were deeply worried about the post-war loss of habitats, especially the conversion of grazing land to arable crops and the devastating effects of agro-chemicals on farmland birds.

Project officer Ann Favell amidst early purple orchids and bluebells in Monkswood, Stevenage (HMWT)

Project officer Ann Favell amidst early purple orchids and bluebells in Monkswood, Stevenage (HMWT) - Credit: Archant

In 1963, the trust’s inaugural meeting in St Albans town hall was so oversubscribed that people had to be turned away. In 1964, the trust was registered as a charity and soon acquired its first nature reserves, including Old Park Wood, Barkway Chalk Pit and Fox Covert.

The mayors of Sawbridgeworth and Bishop's Stortford join the trust to celebrate restoration and acce

The mayors of Sawbridgeworth and Bishop's Stortford join the trust to celebrate restoration and access work at Thorley Wash - Credit: Archant

Half a century later, it has more than 40 nature reserves in its care and more than 21,000 members supporting vital conservation work across Hertfordshire and Middlesex, from woodlands in the east to wetlands in the west. Here’s a snapshot of key dates in our history.

HMWT marks 50 years of conservation in 2014

HMWT marks 50 years of conservation in 2014 - Credit: Archant


Milestones in conservation.


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The inaugural meeting of what was to become the trust was held in St Albans town hall on November 16. 1964.

The Hertfordshire and Middlesex Trust for Nature Conservation was created on August 21 and formally incorporated on October 9.

Fox Covert in Letchworth was offered as a gift by Mr Fordham (below), and became the trust’s first nature reserve. ..


The trust worked to preserve wildlife sites in the Chess Valley from the impact of the new North Orbital Road.


The trust continued to grow. Blagrove Common, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) near Sandon, was taken under trust management and Lemsford Springs near Welwyn Garden City was purchased.

The trust now had 20 nature reserves.


More reserves were added to the trust’s portfolio including Hertford Heath, Alpine Meadow in Berkhamsted, Hexton Chalk Pit and Uxbridge Alderglade. In 1975, Fir and Pond Woods near Potters Bar was added.


Membership of the trust grew to 5,000. Nationally, there were now 40 wildlife trusts with 1,000 nature reserves between them. The government began pursuing the idea of national nature reserves.


The trust moved its base to Grebe House in Verulamium Park, St Albans.


The name of the trust was changed to the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust.


Black-necked grebes were seen in Hertfordshire for the first time in 60 years at Hilfield Park Reservoir near Elstree.


Otters were reported breeding at Rye Meads Nature Reserve, Hoddesdon, having been absent from Hertfordshire since the 1970s.


A 50 Year Vision for the Wildlife and Natural Habitats of Hertfordshire (Biodiversity Action Plan) was published, the first for a county.

1999. King’s Meads in East Hertfordshire and Broadwater Lake near Denham became trust reserves.

The following year, Tewin Orchard and Rye Meads in the Lea Valley were added to its portfolio.


The trust bought Amwell Quarry and embarked on a major restoration project. The reserve is now internationally important for its wetland bird populations.


The trust took action to address the serious decline in water voles with the start of the Wetlands for Water Voles and People project.


Balls Wood near Hertford Heath was bought and officially handed over in June, after a major fundraising campaign to protect this semi-ancient woodland. The trust took on Gobions Wood at Brookmans Park, and Hawkins Wood near Therfield was left to the trust in a legacy. Membership reached 20,000.


The small blue butterfly (shown opposite top) returned to Herts at Aldbury Nowers near Tring after an eight-year absence, thanks to chalk grassland restoration by the trust in 2008.

The trust acquired the Thorley Flood Pound at Spellbrook, a SSSI, from the Environment Agency and started planning a restoration project to protect the wet grassland and improve access for visitors.


Waterford Heath near Hertford was secured on a long lease, protecting scarce grizzled skipper butterflies for the next 85 years.


The whole of the Tring Reservoirs complex, one of the most important wetland reserves in Southern England and a mecca for birdwatchers, came under trust management.


Orchids emerge in swathes on Stevenage roadsides and woods (below), following a programme of careful mowing by the town council, working in partnership with the trust on a Wild Stevenage project.

Work on Herts’ rivers received national recognition with a visit from environment minister Richard Benyon.

The national Chalk Streams Charter was launched from the dried up River Beane near Stevenage, thanks to our work to raise awareness of the terrible state of Hertfordshire’s chalk streams.

Thorley Wash re-opened to the public following a major restoration project. Water rail were reported to be breeding on the reserve.

Membership now at more than 21,000.